One of the biggest sources of criticism NTTD has gotten is its villain, Lyutsifer Safin, played by Rami Malek. For me, however, I instantly put him in my own Top 10 favorite Bond villains, and my second watch of the film only reinforced how much I enjoyed his character. Some reasons why:
-The opening with him is a sequence unlike any other in a Bond film. With his mask and mystery, Safin is immediately established as a creepier / more horror-esque villain than perhaps any other in the franchise.
-Unsettling relationship with Madeleine. It’s never been done in Bond before to have a connection quite so freaky and disturbing. His love and obsession for her makes him extra creepy and an extra big threat to Bond. Also, the scene with him returning to Madeleine for the first time in years I thought was an awesome moment.
-Malek’s performance. Personally, I thought he absolutely hit the sweet spot between over the top and subtle. Some of his quirks and moments were a bit theatrical, but for the most part he is understated in a nice way. I love the look of pure wrath when he shoots Bond near the end.
-The villain who broke Bond more than any other. Safin may not have technically physically killed Bond, but gave him a worse fate with the poison that would have killed his loved ones. This is a victory for a Bond villain I doubt we’ll ever see the likes of again.
-His mystery. While I do also wish like many others there had been a little more time dedicated to Safin, I also like we can kind of interpret some things. For instance, it’s not explicitly said, but one could guess his scarring came from White’s attack on his family. I think maybe a little expansion on his motivation would have been nice, but I also like the fact so much is open to speculation.
-His lair. It is pure classic Bond, the likes of YOLT or TSWLM. Grand and aesthetically pleasing. And having him be in control of the poison garden from the YOLT novel? Awesome.
-“Smarter and stronger than SPECTRE.” As Fukunaga put it. SP left the sour taste in my mouth of unnecessarily connecting every past Craig villain to the big organization, but with Safin - even though he is sort of related in the sense of how they hurt his life - is a separate entity. This gave the variation I was hoping for, and also allowed him to be more his own person beyond an organization.
-Perfect blend of new and old, including many classic traits. No, I’m not referring to the scarring. Safin has the god complex, intense conversation with Bond, epic lair, world domination plot, but has the uniqueness of being tied to the Bond girl so eerily, having a vendetta against SPECTRE, and doing some interesting things we hadn’t seen before like interfering with children and screwing with Bond worse than any other.
For others who really loved Safin as a villain, I’d love to hear more thoughts here. Or those who liked / didn’t like him but wished some things were different. For me, rather than a weakness, he was one of the best parts of NTTD, which I enjoyed very much!